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Natalie McGarry: Grangemouth crisis more than just a David v Goliath issue

Published: 31 Oct 2013 07:303 comments

IT HAS been a curious few weeks in politics. Not only have the people of Dunfermline had a by-election but the apparently now resolved crisis in Grangemouth has been a huge issue for the plant’s workers and their families in Fife, central Scotland and the wider Scottish public.

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Yet the Grangemouth crisis has been more than just a David and Goliath issue between the might of modern corporate power and the workers; it has underlined how volatile our natural assets can be when private masters wish to withdraw their support and their finance.

The energy supply chain and infrastructure in Scotland was and is subject to a dispute between the private business and the interests of the workers, via the questionable representation of the UNITE union in their defence.

It has been a tense period for the workers employed there who this time last week were told the plant would close and who have now had to accept much reduced working terms and conditions as the price of having a job at a time of scarce alternatives and increased stigmatisation of the unemployed.

There will be some relief from the workers but some suspicion too, that this could have been resolved more amicably or earlier.

During the deepening crisis, calls were placed on the First Minister Alex Salmond to nationalise Grangemouth to protect the workers and to safeguard an important cog in Scotland’s economic infrastructure.

I am sure that Alex Salmond desired that that choice was within his gift; even if he wished to find an amicable resolution first and foremost.

And yet it isn’t. This is an issue reserved to Westminster. Despite his advocacy role and effort, the capacity of the Scottish Government to act is limited by the constraints devolution places around our country’s decision-makers.

The absence of UNITE member and Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont during this period was palpable.

The Scottish Government took a leading role in supporting the plant and arguing behind the scenes and in public to protect it and the workers, and yet the leader of Scottish Labour was conspicuous in her absence – no message of support for attempts to resolve the crisis was seen to escape her tightly-controlled office.

This shouldn’t have been a party political issue. Undoubtedly the crisis in Falkirk West Labour Party was a contributory – if small – catalyst but the resulting crisis transcended narrow party politics. When the chips were down, Johann Lamont was found wanting.

Conversely, the new Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael MP was able to swallow whole his political animosity to Alex Salmond and the Scottish Government and work constructively to help secure a future for Grangemouth.

The prospect of independence looms large over our political spectrum but do Labour’s claims of “Scotland on Pause” ring true or hollow?

When the future of Scottish workers and Scottish infrastructure were in danger within the current union, where was the Labour Party?

Where were their progressive and supportive voices?

In recent weeks, it doesn’t seem like it’s “Scotland on pause”; it’s appeared more as “Labour on pause”.

The question should be: will they self-eject before next September?

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